Friday, October 20, 2017

Responding to Danau Tanu

Danau Tanu has an essay called "Toward an Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Diversity of 'Third Culture Kids'" in Migration, Diversity and Education: Beyond Third Culture Kids (eds. Saija Benjamin and Fred Dervin, Palgrave 2015).

I love this collection as a whole for moving the rhetoric of third culture into academic discourse.  In the spirit of academic discourse, Tanu's comments on the applicability of "third culture" as an analytical rubric are quite critical: I love this too.  We must be able to scrutinize all angles of our approaches.

Someday, I might do something more elegant (and academic) with my responses, but for today I would like to "converse" somewhat chattily with Tanu's article:

DT (13): the concept is difficult to apply across disciplines for two reasons.  First, it is premised on essentialist categories that reify the boundaries, which define "Third Culture Kids." Second the (Anglophone) literature has hitherto overlooked the significance of the specific socio-cultural context within which the term [. . .] was coined and subsequently popularized.

AMR (ie, Me): 1) So is everything, at least when it comes to disciplinary definitions within academic departments: American Literature?  Reified boundaries.  British?  Black British?  Immigrant British? etc etc.
2) That is changing!  See especially Jessica Sanfilippo Schulz's important work treating third culture literary texts that are not Anglophone.

DT (14):  TCK is "better understood as an emotionally powerful insider (emic) construct that narrates identity and belonging for people with a transnational upbringing in the same way that "Italy" or "Indonesia" represent geographical and emotional homelands, but are insufficient as analytical constructs."

AMR: Yes!  For those without a specific nation or geography to emplace them TCKness does become a paradoxical "nationality", it becomes a "homeland."

Here's a thing that fascinates me: if "TCK" is analogous to "Italy" or "Indonesia", then, in spite of its insufficiencies as an analytical construct, it can be used the same way.  We study "Italian Literature"; we study "Indonesian Literature"; therefore we can also study "Third Culture Literature" and assume that this title implies some level of cultural coherence.  Tanu's discussion reveals how wrong headed all frames of analysis based on nation really are ("Italy" and "Indonesia" are much more diverse than those essentialist labels imply).  If we persist in using "Italy" and "Indonesia" as analytical constructs, I would argue, "TCK" can analogously join their ranks.

DT (18): "Instead of the processes involved in negotiating boundaries [TCK scholars] emphasize the content."
AMR: Tanu is saying, I think: there is too much work defining who is TCK and figuring out how to delineate the term, and it comes at the expense of thinking what the term is comprised of.  There is too much emphasis on describing the box at the expense of observing what is IN the box.
YES.  Dr. Tanu!  You are quite right.

What is IN THE BOX of third culture literature? Obviously (go ahead, scroll through the blog, or browse my first book Overseas), I have gone at this problem before.  In these early efforts I started with explaining TCK, and defining who is a TCA and agonizing over biographies (all problems in the field, as Tanu argues).

CAN one go the other way?  Can one start with "what is in the literature (that makes it TCK)?"  I hope so.  I'd like to try that next.

My commitment, as always, is to the "un-national".

Can one look in the box first, and leave commenting on author identity out altogether?  Or at least make it secondary?  It is, I would emphasize, NOT the norm in literary critical studies, a discipline which pretends a la Foucault that the author has died, and yet continues to orient all of its courses around national identities and many of its professional publications around them too. (Anyone got a copy of Canadian Literature kicking around?)

(Maybe TCK (or the un-nation of its authors) must strategically essentialize to prove their nationhood first?
Maybe we have already done that?)

Maybe we can be the first , us in the world of literary critique, to look inside the box and see what is there waiting for us, the Schroedinger's cat of what happens in un-nationalist fictional narrative?

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